Saturday, December 1, 2012


This is an optimistic time of year.  Today marks the end of "Ordinary" time, in the Catholic liturgy, and tomorrow marks the beginning of Advent, the four weeks during which we prepare for the Christmas holiday.  Or "Christ Mass" "holy day." 

Next time someone gets snarky about the Catholic Church, remember that it gave us Christmas and the concept of a "holiday." You might remind them, as well, that it is to the the Catholic Church that we owe Sundays off from work, the New Testament, the concept of universal education and health care for the poor, and the inalienable dignity and value of each human being, no matter how humble.  

None of these ideas had any currency in human society or government at the time of Christ.  It was Christ's Church in which they were nurtured and spread, in the face of extraordinary opposition.  

And to the Church we owe 2,000 years of fabulous art, music, literature, philosophy and theology.

I'm not bragging, I'm just pointing out facts for your consideration.

The liturgical readings of late have been consumed with last things, and have focused on the Book of Revelation.  

People usually think of Revelation with a certain amount of awe, since many of the visions described there are of enormously powerful alien creatures filled with malice toward the human race.  "Revelation," the movie, would far outstrip in intensity and pure terror any apocalyptic science fiction movie of recent years.

The Damned (from "The Last Judgment")
Hunter S. Thompson recognized the power of Revelation when he wrote
I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than anything else in the English language.. . because l love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music.
Of course, as with almost anything Thompson wrote, you must separate the flares of insight from the smog of peyote fueled megalomania and self indulgence.  For Thompson, Revelation was a book of madness. 

Thompson's words have the benefit of paying the book its due, in his typically perverse way.  Counting on the book being madness is one of two options.  If the book is even one-tenth true - in any sense, physically, spiritually or allegorically - we are in for a catastrophically bad ride.  

So dismissing it all as "madness" is perfect.  Unless, of course, you are wrong.

Little known by those casually familiar with Revelation are the passages of light and hope cast liberally throughout the book.  One of the readings from today's liturgy is from the final chapter of the Book of Revelation, speaking of the end of all things:

An angel showed me the river of life-giving water,
sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God
and of the Lamb down the middle of the street,
On either side of the river grew the tree of life
that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month;
the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations.

Nothing accursed will be found anymore.
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it,
and his servants will worship him.
They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun,
for the Lord God shall give them light,
and they shall reign forever and ever.  

Who are these servants?  Jesus identifies them in his first sermon: "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."  

The Kingdom passes not to the powerful, not to the arrogant, not to the "wise" or smart or wealthy, nor to the cunning or the ruthless.  The Kingdom passes to the "poor in spirit," to the meek, the humble, those who mourn and those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness."  It passes to those spurned by this world, insulted for having believed in a King and his eternal, just and loving Kingdom.  

This hope is mocked and dismissed by the erudite as the "opium of the people."  Quite the contrary, this hope is "medicine for the nations," as the Book of Revelation says.  And my, my, the nations - including our own - certainly seem to be in need of some medicine right now.

So it is hard not to be optimistic as we embark again on the Church-wide retelling of the story of that Eternal King's love. 

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